Addition by Subtraction

One of my favorite sports phrases is “addition by subtraction.” It’s mostly used when a team gets rid of a player with negative attributes and improves because of it. A great example was when the Giants cut loose the distraction that was tight end Jeremy Shockey and replaced him with quiet, hard working Kevin Boss. Addition by subtraction.

I was reflecting on this phrase when we were driving in heavy fog in New Jersey over Christmas. It’s much easier to see in the fog with just the regular headlights – addition (increased visibility) by subtraction (less light). Being in a reflective mood at the time, I got to thinking of other situations that fit into the addition by subtraction category, and my thoughts gravitated heavily toward the “religious.”

At the risk of sounding trite or trivial, one way I thought of was in the incarnation – God “subtracted” his heavenly glory for a life on earth so that his chosen people could be “added” to his family: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This addition by subtraction wasn’t only manifested in Christ’s incarnation, but also ultimately his atonement. Christ died to reconcile sinners to a holy and just God. What better “addition by subtraction” has there been in history? I submit that there is none.

On a more personal level, I see this theme loosely related to the process of sanctification. The more the Holy Spirit works in my life to convict me of sin, the more this leads me to repentance and the forgiveness found only through Christ’s finished work. Addition (Christ’s righteousness imputed and applied, forgiveness of and occasional victory over sin, etc.) by subtraction (conviction of sin, rooting out the sin in my life).

The fog/headlight analogy eventually breaks down because after a certain point, the less light you use, the less visibility there will be. You can’t see without any light. But in this life, we will never “subtract” enough sin as we progress by God’s grace in sanctification. Only when we are finally glorified with Christ will our sin be perfectly subtracted.

And now you have a little more insight into how my mind works. From fog to sports to Christ to sin.

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